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People v. Sloan.

2024 COA 52. No. 20CA1987. Sixth Amendment Right to Public Trial—Livestreamed Proceedings—Technical Problems—Jury Instructions—Sentence Enhancer—Dismissed Counts—Correction of Mittimus.

May 16, 2024

Sloan ran a red light and broadsided a sedan with his Jeep. He then fled the scene on foot. The sedan’s driver and passenger died as a result of the crash. Sloan went to trial on charges of two counts of first degree assault, two counts of vehicular homicide, failure to fulfill duties after involvement in an accident involving death, and vehicular eluding resulting in death. Sloan’s in-person trial took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was conducted with social distancing in the courtroom, and it was livestreamed on Webex. The Webex feed showed only the judge rather than the entire courtroom, and its technical problems during jury selection resulted in remoted viewers being unable to hear the potential jurors or counsel. Sloan was convicted of all charges. The trial court sentenced him to 72 years in the custody of the Department of Corrections. The sentence on the vehicular eluding resulting in death count was 10 years, to run consecutively to the sentences on the other counts.

On appeal, Sloan contended that the trial court reversibly erred by not fixing the technical problems with Webex, which violated his right to a public trial. The court of appeals held that notwithstanding problems with livestreaming technology that preclude remote observers from hearing and seeing an entire trial, a courtroom is not closed as long as the court makes seats in the courtroom available for members of the public and no member of the public who wants to watch the trial is turned away. Here, the record shows that during all phases of Sloan’s trial, the court made a limited number of seats available for members of the public, and no member of the public who wanted to watch the trial was turned away from the courtroom. Therefore, no courtroom closure occurred, and Sloan’s right to a public trial was not violated.

Sloan also argued that the trial court erred by giving a jury instruction and related verdict form on the vehicular eluding resulting in death sentence enhancer that directed the jurors to decide whether “the accident resulted in death” rather than whether “vehicular eluding . . . result[ed] in death,” as required by CRS § 18-9-116.5(2)(a). Here, the court’s direction to the jury to consider whether the accident resulted in death rather than whether the vehicular eluding resulted in death contravened the statutory sentence enhancer language, and the jury’s finding that the sentence enhancer applied increased Sloan’s conviction for vehicular eluding from a class 5 felony to a class 3 felony and increased the corresponding sentence. Accordingly, notwithstanding the fact that Sloan’s counsel did not contest whether the victims died as a result of vehicular eluding, the error was obvious and substantial, so it was plain.

Lastly, Sloan and the People agreed that, before trial, the trial court dismissed counts for failure to fulfill duties after involvement in an accident resulting in serious bodily injury and vehicular eluding resulting in serious bodily injury, so those counts should not appear as convictions on the mittimus. Because the jury did not convict Sloan on the dismissed counts, they should be removed from the mittimus.

Sloan’s conviction for class 3 vehicular eluding resulting in death was reversed and the other convictions were affirmed. The case was remanded for further proceedings and for correction of the mittimus to remove the reference to the counts dismissed before trial.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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